The Point of 1-Star Dining

On the rare few occasions when I ended up in Michelin star restaurants as a young adult, I never quite got the memo. I could see there was a level of sophistication, technique, and presentation not present in normal restaurants, but I didn’t understand what any of that was for.

Almost 20 years later, my understanding may have improved just a bit. On my 33rd birthday, I went to a one-star restaurant, and the dishes all seemed familiar yet entirely new. The menu included veal tartare, some German Brotzeit, duck breast, a piña colada, and an apple donut.

I know, right? Most of these don’t sound much like fine dining at all. But the veal tartare wasn’t just a blob of raw meat on a plate. The apple donut looked nothing like those you can get from Krispy Kreme. And the piña colada actually wasn’t a drink at all — and may therefore best serve to illustrate the point.

Imagine ordering the classic cocktail, but instead of a tall glass filled with cheap rum, greasy coconut milk, and pineapple juice from the can, you get a dessert bowl. At the bottom, you spot tiny cubes of what appears to be pineapple ragout. Smack dab in the middle of it sits a perfectly round circle of coconut panna cotta. That, in turn, is topped with some crispy-looking structure in the shape of a snowflake, and finally, atop the whole creation, rests a spoonful of lime sorbet.

“A piña colada? Really?” you think, but as you dig in, the first bite of this artsy creation immediately removes any doubts: “Wow! Incredible! It actually tastes like a piña colada — except I can taste every single ingredient and the totality of the dish — at the same time!”

You had no idea a piña colada could look like this, taste like this, feel like this, but it does — and that, I believe, is the point of one-star dining. It is meant to reintroduce you to the familiar, to present you with dishes you’ve had a thousand times at your down-the-street pub but show you that those same dishes can be so much more, all without losing any of the characteristics that make them your lovable, affordable, everyday favorites.

Done right, fine dining isn’t a snobby privilege for the wealthy. It’s a perspective shift that’ll both renew your appreciation of your daily meals as they are and help you see the true potential of what they can become with a little more skill, creativity, and design.

I don’t need nor would ever recommend fancy food on an everyday basis, but if you can afford it, try it once every blue moon. Look beyond the plate, and chances are, you’ll see a lot more than just salt, sugar, and fat.